The DeKalb County Board of Education is in the process of revising a series of policies that address the kind of corruption that led to indictment of its superintendent and construction chief last month.
The board’s budget committee discussed the creation of a new conflict of interest policy for district employees. The board has its own policy on conflicts of interest, but no policy exists for district employees. The committee is also considering the creation of a new whistleblower policy that would protect employees who report malfeasance.
“We want to make sure employees have a safe way to do this,” interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said at the June 29 committee meeting.
The policy will protect employees from retaliation and the threat of being fired, she said.
Board member H. Paul Womack also suggested abolishing the Citizens Advisory Committee and restarting it with a more specific and defined purpose. The committee was created to monitor SPLOST III projects and engender public trust in district spending.
The committee has had attendance issues and has struggled to continue its work. A grand jury returned an indictment May 26 alleging former Superintendent Crawford Lewis, former schools construction chief Pat Reid and her ex-husband Tony Pope conspired to defraud the school district of an estimated $2.4 million through illegal construction contracts. Reid’s secretary, Cointa Moody, was also indicted. All face a series of racketeering charges.
The board is only required to vote on purchases or contracts worth $50,000 or more. Tyson, however, said she plans to provide the board with a regular, monthly report that would detail every construction change order no matter how small. The report will likely be digital (due to its massive size, Womack said) and available to the public.
“I want them from $1 to $50,000,” Tyson said. “I want to be completely transparent.”
The board will also consider a committee recommendation to hire an outside party to review central office staffing – a hot-button issue during budget season. Womack recommended Emory University or Georgia Tech’s business schools perform the review and compare district staffing to that in comparable counties. A college program is more likely to be objective, he said, and consulting companies would likely bend their report to the will of the board or district officials rather than provide its own unvarnished opinion.
“I don’t want to go out and spend a lot of money and be fed back exactly what management wants to hear,” Womack said.
The school district has a credibility issue among the public because it’s difficult to understand how the central office is organized, board member Don McChesney said. District officials offered an example: Many special education teachers are listed as district office employees because funding for those positions does not go directly to the schools in which they work. That money stays at the district level, so the positions are included in the total district office numbers – numbers that have been called excessive.
“I think we have a credibility problem with our structure because people don’t understand our structure,” McChesney said. “I don’t think I even understand our structure.”
The full school board will need to vote on any new policies or changes to existing policies.